The Daily Cougar, Sep. 5, 2002
(Official campus newspaper at the University of Houston)
By Ellen Simonson, Guest Columnist
If you’re a faithful reader of The Daily Cougar (and God knows you should be), you may have noticed some inserts in this fine paper over the past few issues. These inserts were a little more insidious than your average Ikea flyer; they were designed to mimic an actual newspaper, and the first one failed to indicate its status as an advertising supplement, potentially leading some readers to confuse it with actual editorial content.
Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, these inserts dealt with Scientology, which is in itself about as far from the truth as any normal, non-raving-lunatic individual can imagine. A good alternative to taking Scientology seriously would be to run out and sign up for every single credit card they’re hawking at the University Center, then immediately invest that free money in Enron stock.
Scientology would like you to believe it is a religion (and we all know that in America, bad-mouthing people’s religions is bad form). It’s true Scientology has a bit in common with more traditional organized religions — it purports to explain all the secrets of the universe, and it could always use a little more of your cash. But this “religion” is little more than a cult with a bit more capitalist savvy than most.
Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, the author of Dianetics. This is the book excerpted in the inserts, which describe Hubbard as a “New York Times and international bestselling author” who “began his research on the mind as a student of engineering at George Washington University.”
First of all, best-selling author does not equal clear-minded prophet (Danielle Steel regularly makes the list, for God’s sake, and nobody’s deifying her — although that would probably be healthier). Hubbard’s works are unquestionably best-sellers, but this proves nothing more than his talent at manipulating people’s weaknesses.
As for the “student of engineering” description, what they don’t say is that Hubbard was expelled from GWU for failing grades after only four semesters. He claimed to be a “nuclear physicist,” but received an F in the only class he ever took on the subject.
The man whose portrait appears on those inserts looks like a decent person. But keep in mind that before his alleged “breakthrough” in mental science, Hubbard wrote a letter to the Veterans’ Administration pleading for psychiatric treatment; was convicted of petty theft and stolen checks; was diagnosed twice as a paranoid schizophrenic; beat, tortured and strangled his wife rather than granting her a divorce; and was sentenced to four years in prison on a fraud charge.
That’s just the beginning. Hubbard also messed around with Satanism, claimed to have several doctorates after having failed his undergraduate studies, drank heavily, claimed that smoking tobacco prevents lung cancer and committed bigamy. There’s more, but it gets tedious.
Why should you be concerned about all this? Because while Scientology is based on the demented ramblings of an extremely unstable man, its followers are extremely rational when it comes to retaining its power.
Scientologists who attempt to leave the “church” are harassed, tortured, persecuted and sometimes even killed (a former member recently received a $8.7 million settlement from the “church” after a 22-year battle; his lawsuit detailed the mental abuse he’d undergone as a member, as well as the $150,000 he’d spent for the privilege).
Real churches ask for donations. Scientology makes you pay for knowledge. Real churches urge their members to practice compassion. Scientologists have a term for those who don’t agree with them — “suppressive person” — and adherents to the “faith” are forbidden to interact with them or give their ideas credence.
The fact that this organized crime/financial fraud hybrid presents itself as a religion is scary enough, but the fact that it aggressively markets to college students is far worse. As they attempt to discern who they are, why they’re here and what they want to do with their lives, college students become far more susceptible than the average person to the touchy-feely, sugarcoated invitations of cults.
Which is exactly what Scientology is. Members have an “excessively zealous, unquestioning devotion to the identity and leadership of the group,” an “exploitative manipulation of members” and pose “harm or the danger of harm to members, their families and/or society” — the three defining characteristics of a cult according to the American Family Foundation.
The point, then, is you need to avoid the living hell out of Scientology. There are plenty of churches out there founded on the principles of faith, love, truth and justice. Scientology, on the other hand, is no better than any other giant, greedy corporation — except its CEO not only thought he was God but said so.
Simonson, a psychology department employee, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.